Gasworks Ferry

Ferry, you ask? Wasn’t it a bridge?

The Gasworks Bridge planning proposal was given approval at Belfast City Council’s Planning Committee meeting. It passed despite councillors turning a bridge between a business park and a public park into sectarian issue; a point of potential conflict between office desks and trees, perhaps? Only in Northern Ireland.

More worryingly, the bridge still lacks funding. If there was a demonstrable need it would be easier to argue for an allocation of £7m-9m for construction. But there are no swimmers across the Lagan.

I’ve been reading Rotterdam City Council’s Cycling Plan (pdf). It makes interesting reading. Here’s a Dutch city with a less than average modal share for cycling (23%). It identifies numerous issues that need to be addressed to make cycling more attractive.

Rotterdam is bisected by the Nieuwe Maas. It is spanned by iconic bridges, of which the Erasmus bridge is probably the best known internationally. The main railway link to southern Netherlands, Belgium and France burrows deep under the city and river, and a road tunnel with adjacent cycling tunnel is slightly to the west of the centre.

The Nieuwe Maas is wide and carries sea going shipping, with coastal trade towards Germany, but also newly built and repaired ships coming from shipyards upstream from Rotterdam. Bridges have to accommodate large vessels passing through.

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Van Brienenoordbrug open; cycleway in foreground

Severance between the north and south of Rotterdam is one of the reasons for the relatively poor uptake of cycling. People will sooner drive across into the city centre, than take the bike across exposed bridges. In contrast to other major Dutch cities a high percentage of car journeys are less than 7km.

One way Rotterdam is addressing the severance is a foot and cycle ferry from Feijenoord to Kralingen, just east of the city centre. It cuts short lengthy detours to the large bridges further west or east.

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The service is highly rated by its users; around 120 passengers use it daily.

Belfast

Belfast’s proposed Gasworks Bridge across the Lagan lies almost equidistant between the Albert Bridge and the Ormeau Bridge. From one proposed bridge head to the other via the existing bridges is 2.2 or 2.0km, respectively.

Belfast City Centre lacks green space, but its nearest green space, Ormeau Park, is not accessible directly from the centre, because of the Lagan.

The areas with the highest modal share for cycling in Belfast lie immediately beyond the park.

The Gasworks Bridge is the obvious solution to unlock the potential of Ormeau Park and provide access to the City Centre for cyclists and pedestrians from the areas beyond the Park.

Neither the Albert Bridge or Ormeau Bridge are particularly well suited to cycling. There is no space allocated to cycling on either bridge. Worse, one of Belfast’s ghost bikes is chained to the Ormeau Bridge railings.

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Bicycle Ferry in Belfast?

Could a ferry ply back and forth across the Lagan? It could help start developing a cross-river network of cycleways; it could be used to gauge and stimulate demand for the bridge.

Our ferry wouldn’t need to be as big as the one in Rotterdam; the Lagan is a placid pond compared to heavily used and very wide Nieuwe Maas.

A ferry would only need operate during times the gates under the railway bridge at the Gasworks site are open. However, the opening times should be extended into the evening to enable better cyclists and pedestrian access.

And, what will definitely appease the councillors representing communities either side of the river: a boat is crewed and therefore unlikely to become a focus for inter-community strife.

Here’s what the council’s official Twitter account says:

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